Author: Guede Mazaka
Anamaria’s mother had been slender and graceful, strong and beautiful, with the smell of African grasses still on her skin. Her skin had been black as coal but with a rich shine to it that’d put fresh-churned butter to shame, and her eyes were like sparks struck in the deep of the night and caught to light the way to the secret stamp-dance grounds. She’d spoken with a soft, slurring voice, a voice gentle but compelling in its rises and falls, always making Anamaria see those hills of her real homeland. She’d been of the earth, her feet flat with no arch keeping any part of them from digging into the black dirt, and she’d always hated the sea. Hated it for bringing her over.
Anamaria’s father had been white. And English. And a sailing man.
She knows because she got his voice, his loud brash holler that makes men pounds over her weight and inches taller jump to its ring. She remembers her mother always scolding her to keep her voice down, to speak the mother tongue in private and save the English for the owners, but even then her father’s blood had burst through, roughing the words no matter what Anamaria spoke. And he’s in her skin as well, making her fair enough to need the large hats of the white women under the merciless Caribbean sun. Sometimes she almost welcomes the blistering, wishing it would push out every drop of white in her so she could scrub it into the sea.
Most of the time she’s made her peace with it, with her mother in the grave and her father only in her curses, with the wild feeling she has every time her ship bucks a wave and with the way her heart sticks in her throat whenever they put to port. She’s put together her own crew, seen them welded together through storm and fire and made damn sure the weak ones, the rotten ones were weeded out, but still she can’t know for sure they won’t come on her in the night sometime. Catch her back in chains and set her on the auction block at the next port.
They’re men, after all. They all have hearts and hearts change from day to day, just like the water. Anamaria’s sailed ‘neath Jack Sparrow and she’s learned this well enough. She knows how to read them, knows even how men are the best barometers of all thanks to their fickleness. They reflect every shift and shudder and ripple in the towns, in the sky, in the sea.
She’s been watching how they move, and lately she’s been thinking she’s seen something to worry on in it. Something wrong, something unsettled and out of place and rising fast and hard.
* * *
Ships are always wrecking. If they’re lucky—the unlucky ones just sail off after the horizon and it eats them up without a trace, spits out no bodies to lay to rest and marks no spot for people to bow their heads to. That’s not so unusual. It still makes the talk in the taverns, the drunken maunderings between drinks or fucks or bargains, but nobody thinks much of it.
There’s been ships lost in the last few months, though, that people are talking about in lowered voices, with their hands half over their mouths and their eyes always shifting towards the sea. They act on it, too. Sailors are sailors and can’t stay away, but when they’re lining up to hop on their next ship, it’s like watching a line in to church to view the body. Merchants don’t trust to convoys now—they go in bunches and they go near the coast, hugging the shallows best as their heavy-bellied ships will allow.
And when Anamaria’s taking them, sword in her hand and knife between her teeth, she’s been doing it to the beat of the inland drums. It’s been a long, long time since she’s heard their thud and boom come roaring through the trees, stirring the blood. Making it rise so it itched beneath the skin, calling for more blood, and so the whites in the big houses chained their slaves close, seeing too much of fellow men in them.
She thinks she sees the water stir the same way around her ship sometimes, slow and tense at first before whipping up white froth quick against the wood. While her crew gorges and gluts themselves, she’s locked in her cabin with her share shoved to the side and her maps spread out on the table, trying to mark down where the sinkings have been, where she’s heard the drums. Where the ships don’t go now.
It’s the ocean, but certain things can leave their print in the waves. Barbossa and the Pearl had had their favored waters, and at one time anybody who knew a little about the Caribbee could’ve traced out the shape of them with one finger and a patch of sand. Though now his name’s left the air; the men have stopped talking about him and leave him up to the women scaring their children into staying at home, near the hearth.
Now it’s Davy Jones they’d be talking about.
Davy. Another English name, and maybe the seed of the story was English—Barbossa was, for all his Spanish-seeming name. But what Anamaria knows is, the first time Davy Jones’ story was told to her, it wasn’t in that tongue, and the name she’d heard him called then was older than any Englishman.
* * *
She leaves word in Tortuga and in a few of the smaller ports for Sparrow, though she’s not heard from him for so long that she almost thinks she should be looking for him instead. God knows he’s got a more than even chance of being at the bottom of this as well, given his nature. But Jack Sparrow can handle himself, and till Anamaria knows a bit more about what he’s trying to handle, she ain’t going to stick out her neck.
Instead she goes for rumors, sailing back from the English colonies into the French ones, and then into the squatters’ camps of the runaways and the desperados. She follows the shifts in the stories, the ones that make what happened seem hellish and filthy and mean, and not fantastic and amazing and shocking. And eventually, like just about everything else in the world, she finds a woman at the bottom of them.
* * *
She’s seen places a bit like this Tia Dalma’s house before, but never somewhere that has had everything and all of it under the same roof. It’s like this one was the mother that birthed the rest, and when Anamaria scrapes her heel over the floor, feeling the smooth splinter-less veneer only long use can produce, she almost thinks that might be it.
At any rate, it’s a wonder in itself that this house seems to have been here for so long, in the middle of a jungle where corpses turn to fetid earth within the week if the animals don’t get them first.
“Ah…ye come t’talk to me…” Hiss of a voice, slinking through a doorway hung with strung bones and shells. Tia Dalma, who is small and delicate like Anamaria’s mother had been, with a body like ripe fruit bound in tattered red silk.
She moves sideways around the edge of the room, her lashes fluttering, twisting and turning like a coy snake. Anamaria stands where she is and watches, amused. So far she already knows that this woman, whatever she be, ain’t got infallible sight.
“…but I demand a price for me services, good—” Tia Dalma’s got a line to Anamaria’s face now, and stops where she is.
That and the hands, roughened though they are now, are about the only thing that does give Anamaria away. She binds her chest, not that there’s much for it anyway, and she dresses in a man’s coat and trousers, her shoulders and back and legs filling them out well enough to pass. Work in the fields gave her the muscle, and work on the ship only added to it.
“Well, now,” Tia Dalma finally says.
Anamaria takes her hands out of her sleeves and tosses a full bag on the floor. “That coin’s the same as any man’s.”
She gets a flash of white teeth for her pains. The other woman twitches her skirts aside, bare feet beneath them brown as the wood floor, and slinks over to prod at the bag with her toes. She nods like any other marketwoman at its heft. But then Tia Dalma turns her back on good gold and stalks towards the doorway again.
“What?” Anamaria snaps.
Tia Dalma whirls on her, all the sly arches and sinuous curving gone, and in its place a fiery-eyed fury with hair flying out behind like canvas in a brisk wind. “What? What is dis? What, you think you buy me with dis gold, like I am a whore? I can tell you de future—I don’t go so cheap.”
“Well, ain’t you high and mighty. Getting gold that way’s less work than some other ways. Less pain, too, if you know how to do it right. ‘course I’m guessing you ain’t never had to,” Anamaria drawls, flicking her eyes up and down Tia Dalma. Her accent, her way of moving, how she holds her skirts—she was a house one, at the least. Maybe even get of some rich white man’s mistress, if what they say about the Frenchmen’s ways with their slaves is true.
That’s put the fire up the cat’s tail, but Tia Dalma holds it in. Nearly breaks ribs doing it, but…her eyes narrow and she draws herself up, and she’s got more to her than she’s been showing. Which earns Anamaria’s respect, but it don’t mean that she’s taken any more of a liking to the other woman. She ain’t fond of people hiding their true selves from her.
“I get what I want without needing you gold,” Tia Dalma finally says, slow and measured. She turns in place, her hand sliding across the front of her skirts to trace out the line of her hip. She’s looking back at Anamaria, and setting an itch alight beneath Anamaria’s skin. “But I don’t work free. Don’t throw me bread out for de sparrows to eat out of de goodness of me heart.”
Anamaria raises her eyebrows at the mention of the bird. “So what is it you want? I ain’t got all day to stand here parleying.”
“Ah…what I want…you rude, but you quick, anyway.” Tia Dalma tosses her head, like any coquette with a prospect, and light-steps her way back across the room. “What is it you want?”
She still sounds like a whore, but there’s something to her look, to the steady gaze she’s got on Anamaria, that gives her more than that. Gives her something that makes Anamaria want to lower her gaze. Not that she does—she comes forward and she slaps down her map of downed ships on the nearest table, sending all the manner of dried bits and animal skulls crashing to the floor. “I want to know what’s happening.”
Then Anamaria turns to get back her bag of gold, and as she does, she glimpses Tia Dalma delicately picking her way through the mess on the floor, looking at the map like she’s cooking up the next spiel of nonsense in her head. So Anamaria tosses a fragment of wood onto the table as well: a hand’s-span piece she’d picked out of the water at the one spot where there’d been anything left of the ship.
Tia Dalma pauses, then swoops down on that piece like it was the gold. Her fingers run rapidly round and over it, then slow to caress its rough edges as her eyes flutter shut. Her face contorts a few times, lips pursing in and out so the carmine on them rubs away and all that’s left is the natural color that darkens as her lip swells beneath the pressure. “Ah. Ah.”
“You know?” Anamaria can’t help asking. Even though she’s seen these tricks before, even though she’d really like to be saying how they don’t work on her. Her, who’s gone from plantation fields to her own ship, who’s got the lesson of not getting too friendly burned on the back of her right shoulder.
And yet Tia Dalma comes close, heavy-lidded and smiling, to put one hand on Anamaria’s chest and tip up her head to whisper in Anamaria’s ear. And Anamaria don’t lift a hand.
* * *
That comes later, when they’re tangled in the bed behind the shell-strings. The mattress is damp and lumpy, no sorceress’ silken wonder, and the legs are uneven so the bed rocks with them. Makes Anamaria more comfortable to have it so, as a matter of fact.
Because Tia Dalma isn’t so much of a whore in bed, isn’t one for simpers and soft hands and sweet charming pleas. She grapples with Anamaria with her nails, clawing and pulling, and never mind the tattered finery of the dress that, for all its ties and ribbons, comes off easy as wiping foam from skin. Her breasts are high and small, and her hips a bit bigger than the span of her shoulders, her knees bony—but she throws out her imperfections, juts that hip into Anamaria’s hand and rubs her chest over Anamaria’s mouth and nudges her knee up between Anamaria’s legs, without a single demure look.
She don’t shy from Anamaria’s scars, either: her mouth runs like a flame over Anamaria’s back and arms and then down to the ones on the inner side of Anamaria’s thighs, shoving them open even when Anamaria, too startled to remember to be uncaring, tries to close them. Every time Anamaria drops a hand down, Tia Dalma is biting at it and her teeth are sharp enough to draw blood. Till finally Anamaria gets her head up, remembers who she is, and yanks at the woman’s shoulder—and then Tia Dalma comes easy off, smiling like she’d been waiting for it, and yields on her back.
“No man in dis bed,” Tia Dalma snorts. “Why you want one still?”
“Don’t want a—” Anamaria starts, and then closes her mouth. For a moment she wants to hit her, hit that knowing smile right off Tia Dalma’s face and then…but instead she kisses her, hard and long till Tia Dalma’s arm comes over her neck, pulling her down and tight.
So Anamaria changes, too. So maybe tomorrow she’ll want something else, someone else, but today she wants this. This woman, this snarl-and-slap tussle in the bed, this simmering angry understanding between them. She wants it.
And she wants to know.
* * *
“Davy’s got de kraken out, but dat ain’t all of it,” Tia Dalma mutters. Her fingers trace shapes on Anamaria’s back. A cross, a handful of circles, and the lines all burn briefly before dissolving into sweat and grime. “Listen, you want to know: dere be a reckoning ahead, and dere ain’t no out-sailing it. Dere’s just what you got…”
And her hand weaves across, rounding down Anamaria’s ribs, to press at Anamaria’s belly, breastbone, throat.
“…and what I get. Dat’s all it needs from us.” Gleam of white between her lips.
“You asking for something?” Anamaria says.
“I see de storm, I need de gift to de gods to keep it from me. Need a man dis time, a wicked merciless one who’ll not stop for anyone, who’ll have to be stopped. Need one steeped in de ocean, who she’s already claimed.” Tia Dalma lays her head on her arm, lips slowly pulling into a smile. “Need me de captain of de Black Pearl.”
A laugh breaks from Anamaria. “What, Jack Sparrow? He ain’t wicked. He just hopeful all the time.”
The other woman’s brows draw together. Her fingers curl on Anamaria’s shoulder, like she’s itching to smack one at Anamaria, but instead she snorts like she ain’t never heard such nonsense. “Not him. He dat ship’s love, destiny maybe, but not her captain. Not de one who mastered her. I need—”
And now Anamaria knows who’s meant, and the hairs on the back of her neck are stiff as if they’d been tarred. And she looks and looks at Tia Dalma, but the woman don’t show a sign of flinching.
“He’s dead,” Anamaria finally says.
“Don’t matter. I need where him bones lie, is all.” Tia Dalma cocks her head, her hand gliding slow and gentle and ominous down Anamaria’s arm. Something flares in her eyes, like when they’ve thrust a wad of burning rag into a dirty lamp and the filth on the glass turns the flame red and muddy, like hell itself.
Then she blinks, and the light dulls so the fine lines at the corners of her eyes and the tired way her lashes come down can be seen. She’s still warm to touch, not cold as ice like those undead bastards who’d served under Barbossa, and the slight smile on her lips is more knowing than contemptuous, more resigned than anticipating.
“Destiny don’t stop. Best you do is try and steer it a bit, and I do what I do to keep me hand on de rudder a little bit longer, when I get de chance.” Tousled, twisted locks of hair slip over the mattress as Tia Dalma turns on her back, spreading her arms and staring straight up at the ceiling. “You going to tell me, I see dat. Don’t see you past dis.”
“If that’s true, then I guess that’s my money’s worth,” Anamaria says. Force of habit, wanting to know right away if the other’ll wince or if they’ll take it for what it is: a moment’s lying together.
Tia Dalma don’t wince. Instead she pushes down with her elbows and sits herself up, shaking out her hair all business-like before pulling the sheets up around herself. “You telling me where him bones lie, dat’ll be payment enough. Don’t know why you be shying away from de truth, Anamaria. What you care about dis, anyhow? It’s all Jack, and none of you.”
“I don’t know where Barbossa lies,” Anamaria snaps, stung by the hinting. Damned if she’s been taken in by any man more than once, and Jack Sparrow already had his turn with her. Those two young ones with their shining fool eyes can follow him to the end of the world if they want, but all Anamaria’s ever wanted is to go her own way, to own herself and share it with nobody else. “Isle de Muerte—don’t know how to get there in the first place, and anyway it’s sunk. You’d have better luck asking the sea.”
“I asked, and it ain’t talking. It and Davy, dey in it together. ‘Least, Davy ain’t letting it speak,” Tia Dalma says, stretching back across the bed. She lays one hand on Anamaria’s back and her touch is hot, so hot that Anamaria flinches and reaches back, expecting to find blisters. “You been dere, though. Dat’s all I need. Give me dat and I’ll tell you where to go to be your own self, to have none of dis.”
And Tia Dalma smiles again, lips soft and swollen over the sharp promise of her teeth.
* * *
It hadn’t been much in the end. Some incense, some candles and Tia Dalma chanting in a strange, guttural voice while Anamaria had thrown sawdust on the floor. If there’d been patterns, she hadn’t seen them, but Tia Dalma had seemed satisfied enough. She’d given Anamaria a map that looked like a real map and then sent Anamaria on her way.
So Anamaria had gotten her crew back together and sailed off, using that map with one eye still aimed behind her. But the stories of mauled ships and monsters from the deep had dropped off, and the merchant ships they’d run into no longer hugged the coast or even went in convoy so they’d had easy pickings, and soon it seemed they had indeed left it all behind.
And then the sun had gone out.
They’d been off the coast of Africa at that point, and curiosity had led Anamaria to go off a ways while the men filled their water barrels. She’d climbed a low hill, one hand on her sword-hilt, and had felt the stiff grass rustle over her boots and smelled earth and herd-beast musk, thinking that once upon a time her mother might’ve stood here. That she might have family further in. Then low in the distance had come a drum’s rolling, a thrumming call and Anamaria had lifted her head to it, had felt it tug at her against the crash of the waves on her other side. She’d been standing there, between so many things and frozen there, and the light had begun to dim. Slow at first, but then faster till it was nearly dark as night—her men screaming and cursing—and Anamaria had looked up to see the sun’s middle cut out of it, leaving behind just a black gaping hole, like a mouth ready to eat the world. And she’d thought: Jack’s dead.
She hadn’t known why. Jack Sparrow hadn’t had a damn thing to do with Africa and though he might favor Port Royal’s rum and fairytale-addled fools, he hadn’t had much truck otherwise with the English either. He’d loved the sea, but that love had been between them two only, and had had nothing to do with how he pulled in people for his tricks.
The sand before Anamaria’s feet had risen in a whirl of wind, pattering against her legs, and she’d looked down and thought here, even though she was torn in two ways, she was safe. She knew what was pulling at her. She’d already had her scars given to her.
And if she stayed here, she’d always have them going at her, and always be in the middle of that fight, with no say about it.
The darkness had begun to lift and the shadows had withdrawn back across the beach into the ocean, their grasping black fingers chased away by the sun’s renewed light. But Anamaria had paid no mind; she’d gone down on her knees with her eyes half-closed, her finger tracing in the sands as she’d thought: I want to know.
Over the sound of the drumming, louder than ever but helping her now as she tried to remember Tia Dalma’s chanting, she’d thought she’d heard a laugh. She’d smiled a little herself, feeling the bite in the muscles of her face, and when she had opened her eyes, she’d had another map before her. Her own, this time.
* * *
Jack looks all right for a dead man, though Anamaria’s standing off and doing the heavy guard work while those idiots fuss over him. She thinks, from the furrowed look on Turner’s face, that something she can’t see must be wrong, that Jack didn’t come back right. And she thinks they’re taking too damn long, considering the trouble they’re in.
She finally shoulders her way through and grabs Jack’s shoulder, spinning him to face her. Behind her Gibbs is gibbering and Swann’s shrieking, but Anamaria ignores the lot of them and stares Jack straight in the eye. He stares back, but there’s no smile on his face or in his eyes.
Anamaria hauls off and gives him a slap. His head jerks round and he staggers into Turner and Swann, which keeps them off Anamaria though it doesn’t shut them up. He leans against them for a moment, then slowly pulls himself up, and even though his head’s down, she can see white flashing.
“There,” she says, and stalks off while everyone else is busy with him. She’s done with this now. She’s had her hand on the rudder, and given it a good wrench, and now she’s going back to her own ship to do its steering.
If she’s going to walk away from something, she’ll do it on her terms, and not because some jungle witch said it’d be so. Anamaria ain’t hearing any laugh in her ears now except her own, and it’s a beautiful sound.